How Does Mail Forwarding Work? (2023)

By Rachel Newcomb

Jun 04, 2023
Bunch of envelopes on a wooden kitchen table

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Amidst the excitement and chaos of hiring movers and preparing your new home, administrative tasks such as updating your contact information can easily slip through the cracks. Fortunately, mail forwarding is a simple solution that ensures important correspondences reach you at your new mailing address. Below, we explain how mail forwarding works and explore the benefits of this service.



What Is Mail Forwarding?

Mail forwarding is a service provided by both the United States Postal Service and third-party companies that allows individuals to redirect mail from their old address to a new one. It ensures that all mail sent to your previous address—including important documents, packages, and subscriptions—is delivered to your current address.

By setting up mail forwarding, individuals can continue to receive their mail during a temporary or permanent change of address.



How to Set Up Mail Forwarding

Although you can have your mail forwarded through a private company, the easiest option for most people is to set up mail forwarding through the U.S. Postal Service. Here’s how:

Step 1: Visit the Post Office or USPS Website

You can change your address either in person at your local post office or online through the Official USPS Change-of-Address portal. If you choose the former, you must request a change-of-address form (PS Form 3575) from the clerk at the post office. For the latter, simply follow the instructions and prompts on the webpage. Note that online submission is not available for international addresses.

Step 2: Complete a Change-of-Address Form

Fill out the USPS change-of-address form. You will be asked whether the change of address is for an individual, family, or business and whether the relocation is temporary or permanent. You will also need to provide your name, contact information, and the start date for your mail forwarding. To file online, you will need to provide a valid email address.

Step 3: Verify Your Identity

The USPS uses a multifactor identity verification process for online submissions. This involves a one-time passcode or verification link sent to your cell phone and a $1.10 fee, payable via credit or debit card. The billing address for your card must match either your old or new address to verify your identity.

If for some reason this online identity verification is not successful, you will be directed to your local post office. To verify your identity in person, bring a valid photo ID and a secondary form of ID that lists your name and your old or new address, such as a vehicle registration card or lease.

Step 4: Sign and Submit the Form

Before submitting your form in person, be sure to sign and date it. For online submission, simply follow the instructions on the screen. If you have any questions about the form or how mail forwarding works, check out the change of address FAQ page on the USPS website.

Step 5: Save Your Confirmation Number

After submitting an online change of address, you will receive an email with a confirmation code. If you file in person, you will first receive a Move Validation Letter (MVL) in the mail, followed by a Customer Notification Letter (CNL) or Welcome Kit that contains your confirmation code. It’s important to save this number in case you need to cancel your change-of-address request or extend the forwarding period.



When Do I Need to Forward My Mail?

You will need to forward your mail when you move to a new home or relocate to a new office. These are the most common situations in which mail forwarding is needed. However, you may also need to forward your mail temporarily during a long-term vacation or business assignment. 

Regardless of the reason or duration, be sure to submit your USPS mail forwarding request at least two days before your desired move date. According to the USPS, mail forwarding may begin within three business days but could take up to two weeks. Standard mail forwarding lasts 12 months by default, but you can extend it beyond that or cancel it early.



Benefits of Mail Forwarding Services

Using a mail forwarding service offers several benefits. First, it ensures that you don’t miss any important mail during your move or while you’re away. Your mail will be securely redirected to your new address or a designated location, allowing you to stay connected. If you sign up for the USPS’s Premium Forwarding Service (PFS-Residential Service), you can even have your mail combined into a single weekly shipment.

Mail forwarding also provides flexibility and convenience by centralizing your mail management. With this service, you can easily change your forwarding address and the duration without updating your address with multiple senders individually.

Private mail forwarding companies may offer additional features, such as a virtual mailbox, online access to scanned mail, and package consolidation. They may also forward a wider variety of mail. While the USPS only forwards First-Class packages, private companies may accept all types of mail. They can also accept packages from other mail carriers, such as FedEx and UPS.



Our Recommendation

A mail forwarding service is an invaluable tool during the moving process, whether your business is relocating to a new office or your family is planning a long-distance move. By redirecting your mail automatically to your new address, mail forwarding ensures that you receive important mail without disruption.

Setting up mail forwarding is a straightforward process that involves submitting a simple form and verifying your identity. Although private companies may charge a monthly fee, the USPS only charges a nominal fee to verify your identity—and only if you submit your request online. We recommend setting up mail forwarding about two weeks before your address will change.



Mail Forwarding FAQ

What happens to mail that cannot be forwarded?

Mail that cannot be forwarded is typically returned to the sender or marked as undeliverable by the postal service. When delivery or forwarding is not possible, the post office will make an effort to notify the sender of the change of address and return the mail to them. In some cases, the mail may be held at the local post office for a specified period, allowing the recipient to collect it directly.

Is there a fee for mail forwarding?

There is no fee for mail forwarding if you file a change-of-address form in person at your local post office. If you file through the USPS website, you must pay a $1.10 fee via debit or credit card. Third-party companies, however, may charge significantly more for their mail forwarding services.

How long does mail forwarding take?

According to the USPS, it can take up to two weeks for mail forwarding to begin. However, it may start in as little as three business days.